The Cuckoo’s Calling
by Robert Galbraith
Paperback, 464 pages
Published April 29th 2014 by Mulholland Books
I began reading this novel knowing that, (even because) it was published under J.K. Rowling’s ‘nom de plume’, and so I was curious to see how it would differ to her Harry Potter books, and of course, by extension, how it would resemble them as well.
The easiest difference to spot is that the well-drawn characters are adults; they have adult issues, use adult language, have adult regrets and fears and desires. This is to be expected in writing an ‘adult’ book – I say ‘adult’, though she is discrete with the sex and violence, keeping both very tame.
The pleasure I found came more from Rowling’s, um, I mean, Galbraith’s marvellous handling of her (his) two main characters, Robin and Strike.
Some may object in regards to Robin – unrealistically keen, smart, organized, professional – but having known and worked with individuals who fit that description to a T, I found her immediately believable, and more importantly, likeable. I suspect more than a little that in writing Robin, Rowling inserted more than a bit of herself into the story.
As for Cormoran Strike, I found him entirely likeable as well. He is an inherently flawed character: he is given to certain self-destructive vices, his natural strength has been counterfeited by his disability, and his wits are all too often underestimated because of his brutish looks. He come to us flawed, his best attributes hidden, to be discovered over time by both the reader and Robin.
Dialogue, setting, and pacing I thought were all excellent. Cormoran’s antics while drunk were particularly well written (a statement I feel qualified to make, having been in such a state myself a time or two) and highly amusing. In fact I thought just about every character was painted with skillful detail; from Guy Somé’s mincing, to Evan’s drug-addled twitchiness, even Lula’s birth mother’s loathesomeness. The characters were life-like enough that I frequently found myself calling up the places they visited in Google maps, so I could put them against an equally realistic backdrop.
As a murder mystery, I think I was expecting something more; more action for certain, with Cormoran (and even Robin) getting into some serious trouble as they inched closer and closer to the truth. More twists perhaps, although I suppose the ending itself is one. I had considered the murderer as one of my (armchair sleuthing) suspects, but not surprisingly, Rowling withheld key information from the reader until the end. I did find the final explanation somewhat far-fetched, but is that not a hallmark of detective crime fiction? But in the midst, I did have may theories of my own, and overall I am satisfied, and, more importantly, entertained.